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‘Lean Into It. Lean Into the Culture War': Are Liberals Really Stoking Conflict?

Recently two columnists who are hardly sympathetic to Trump or Trumpism — far from it — raised questions about whether the right or the left deserves blame or responsibility for the kind of conflicts that now roil elections. Kevin Drum, in “If you hate the culture wars, blame liberals,” and Damon Linker, in “The myth of asymmetric polarization,” make the case that the left has been the aggressor in the culture wars.

“It is not conservatives who have turned American politics into a culture war battle. It is liberals. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise,” Drum wrote. “Almost by definition, liberals are the ones pushing for change while conservatives are merely responding to whatever liberals do.” Linker took this a step further, arguing that progressives do not want to acknowledge that “on certain issues wrapped up with the culture war, Democrats have moved further and faster to the left than Republicans have moved to the right,” because to do so “would require that they cede some of the moral high ground in their battles with conservatives, since it would undermine the preferred progressive narrative according to which the right is motivated entirely by bad faith and pure malice.”

Drum and Linker were quickly followed by other commentators, including Peggy Noonan, a conservative columnist for The Wall Street Journal, who wrote a piece that was summed up nicely by its headline: “The Culture War Is a Leftist Offensive.”

I asked Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, for his assessment of the Drum and Linker arguments, and he wrote back:

It strains credulity to argue that Democrats have been pushing culture-war issues more than Republicans. It’s mostly Republican elites who have accentuated these issues to attract more and more working-class white voters even as they pursue a plutocratic economic agenda that’s unpopular among those voters. Certainly, Biden has not focused much on cultural issues since entering office — his key agenda items are all bread-and-butter economic policies. Meanwhile, we have Republicans making critical race theory and transgender sports into big political issues (neither of which, so far as I can tell, hardly mattered to voters at all before they were elevated by right-wing media and the G.O.P.).

Hacker provided me with a graphic of ideological trends from 1969 to 2020 in House and Senate voting by party that clearly shows much more movement to the right among Republicans than movement to the left among Democrats.

Read entire article at New York Times